20 October 2023

The World Cup final beckons: talking points ahead of England-South Africa

20 October 2023

England and South Africa meet in the World Cup for the sixth time in Saturday’s rematch of the 2019 final.

Here the PA news agency examines five talking points as the rivals battle it out for a place in the Paris showpiece on October 28.

Rising from the ashes

It was only eight weeks ago that England fell to their first defeat to a current tier two nation after Fiji had run riot at Twickenham, yet now they are one win away from a second successive appearance in the World Cup final. A kind draw has facilitated their march into the last four but they have also emerged from every challenge thrown at them – including a rematch with dangerous Fiji in the previous round – and in the process developed the vital ability to dig out victory when faced by adversity. Remarkably given the strength of Ireland and France, they are the last remaining Six Nations representative and the only unbeaten team left in the tournament.

English beef

England may have distanced themselves from the game’s billing as a rematch of the 2019 final but with eight starters from that clash in Yokohama present on each side, the historical context is undeniable. South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus expects the underdogs to have “beef” after they were flattened 32-12 on an afternoon of crushing disappointment four years ago, capitulating without firing a shot. While not the most powerful source of their motivation for Saturday, revenge would be sweet.

Score to settle

Of the survivors from four years ago, Dan Cole’s story is the most remarkable. When Kyle Sinckler was knocked out just three minutes into the final, Cole came on as his replacement and suffered a torrid time at the scrum until Joe Marler took over at loosehead early the third quarter, steadying the set piece. Leicester’s veteran tighthead became the fall guy and was cast into the international wilderness with little hope of a reprieve. But the stars aligned when Steve Borthwick took over in December and at 36-years-old the Test centurion has the opportunity to avenge that day against the Springboks by nullifying what England’s head coach views as the best scrum in the world.

Puncher’s chance

Given the way England are talking, they will not die wondering. They have a core of players capable of making dents on South Africa in different ways and several are in ‘last dance’ territory, knowing this could be their last appearance in a Red Rose jersey, providing additional inspiration. But the Springboks are overwhelming favourites, with bookmakers giving Borthwick’s men only a puncher’s chance. How much Sunday’s epic victory over France has taken out of them will only become clear at the Stade de France, but they are one of the great South Africa sides who are playing for a nation beset by challenges, as vocalised by skipper Siya Kolisi – “we’re a purpose-driven team, not a trophy-driven team”.

Rassie’s “dark arts”

Erasmus is a wily operator, a master disruptor who attempts to unsettle opponents and officials through the use of mind games or by coming up with unusual innovations to give his team an edge. Opting for a scrum when a mark was called against France in the quarter-finals is an example of the latter, while his use of social media – most notoriously during the 2021 Lions tour – is frequently controversial. Warren Gatland knows from his sparring with Erasmus when he was Lions coach two years ago of the danger of allowing him to “control the agenda” because of his skill at the “dark arts”.

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox